CanSecWest: Caution, community at play

Guest editorial by Sarah BlankinshipCanSecWest, in beautiful Vancouver BC, is one of my favorite conferences each year. It’s a cozy little security con that brings together security researchers from all parts of the security ecosystem.
Written by Ryan Naraine, Contributor

Guest editorial by Sarah Blankinship

CanSecWest, in beautiful Vancouver BC, is one of my favorite conferences each year. It’s a cozy little security con that brings together security researchers from all parts of the security ecosystem. Like a PhNeutral or a BlueHat, one never quite knows what to expect out of a CanSecWest, but we do know that Microsoft products and engineers will play a prominent role. We’ll be presenting new security innovations and new tools, we’ll be watching Pwn2Own closely for possible hacks, and we’ll be happy to discuss our industry best practices in the hallway track.

Security gatherings such as this allow the ecosystem to exchange information and awareness in order to become more secure. The more we know about the attacks, the better prepared we can be on defense. Presentations like Matt Miller’s “The Evolution of Microsoft's Exploit Mitigations” and Jason Shirk and Dave Weinstein’s “Automated Real-time and Post Mortem Security Crash Analysis and Categorization” demonstrate that as Microsoft learns more about an attack, we incorporate this information into techniques and tools that we share with our developer community. Stay tuned for more news and posts throughout the show.

[ SEE: Pwn2Own 2009: Safari/MacBook falls in seconds ]

Again this year, CanSecWest features the Pwn2Own contest – a contest that pits researchers against technologies to see whether technology or human wins. It’s also a contest that presents interesting challenges to Microsoft and a contest which you might think Microsoft opposes. Like many other issues in the security ecosystem – it’s not that simple. The contest exemplifies two basic tenets behind the TwC Security teams’ efforts. You can’t hide from the truth (wishing doesn’t make it so) and every issue is an opportunity to learn and improve.

We recognize that all vendors’ products may be found vulnerable and Microsoft welcomes the contest as another opportunity to engage the security community in productive dialogue around responsible disclosure and effective security engineering. We also see that Pwn2Own provides an opportunity to educate the public and we believe it can showcase Microsoft’s security engineering efforts, both relative to our competitors and in an absolute sense.

[ SEE: Security is everyone's domain ]

The security community is offering knowledge of attacks and defenses that consumers and other vendors can use to stay safe or create more secure products. The rest of the story – and an additional measure the security community could use to evaluate vendors’ products - is what happens after the content ends. Rest assured Microsoft will take this information and apply it towards securing our networks, platforms and applications (hopefully before they ship), and to create strong response process and engineering discipline that are necessary for our communal security. And as always, the MSRC are ready to work to investigate any vulnerabilities that researchers might find during the Pwn2Own contest.

By the end of the contest, co-sponsor Tipping Point will be the owners of many new vulnerabilities. They value the protection of their customers and will need to work with their partners in the security ecosystem to make sure everybody is protected as quickly as possible (one more way consumers benefit).  One of the goals of responsible disclosure is for the vulnerability details to emerge at the same time that an update is available from the vulnerable vendor. The CanSecWest conference organizer also has a responsible disclosure policy, as do all of the conference organizers that the EcoStrat team is able to support worldwide each year. Although innovative contests put some of us in a place that is not always comfortable, it’s valuable for the ecosystem to come together with contests like Pwn2Own and Iron Chef Black Hat, to better understand and solve common issues.   It’s yet another example of the “team of rivals” strategy.  Let the contest begin!

* Sarah Blankinship is a senior security strategist lead in Microsoft's EcoStrat team.

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